Friday, January 30, 2009

Movies to Watch with boys 5-8

One great way to instruct and engage boys abound values that you want them to have is through stories—and for boys, movies tell stories in boy friendly ways.

Here is a brief list of some movies to watch with your son (5-8) and to talk with him about. Many of these movies are made from books. IF he likes the movie, get the book and read it with him.

The Lion King (1994) (5+ years old)
Babe (1995) (5+ years old)
Toy Story (5+ years old)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (6+ years old)
The Wizard of Oz (6+ years old)
Old Yeller (1957) (6+ years old)
The Iron Giant (1999) (6+ years old)
Star Wars: A New Hope, Episode IV (6+ years old)
E.T. (1982) (8+ years old)
Miracle of 34th Street (1947) (8+ years old)
Where the Red Fern Grows (1974) (8+ years old)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Library Journal Review

We got a great review in Library Journal for Wild Things this week. We are really glad that people are taking notice of this book.

Here is the review.

James, Stephen & David Thomas. Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. Tyndale House. Feb. 2009. c.351p. ISBN 978-1-4143-2227-8. pap. $14.99. CHILD REARING
This worthy, engaging owner’s manual on boys aged two to 22 is written from a reserved, supportive Christian perspective. With five sons between them, the authors (both therapists) view testosterone-fueled shenanigans with droll humor and encourage parents to remain calm when upsetting things inevitably occur. The authors aptly demonstrate their view that “[t]he older a boy gets, the more he needs from his caregivers.” With real-life examples both mundane and dramatic, they discuss characteristics frequently shared among boys of similar ages and provide guidance on what boys need most during those stages. Practical direction (e.g., give young “Explorers” “space to roam”), along with encouragement to be open and honest when parenting, is constant. While some suggestions (e.g., monitoring MySpace accounts or backpack inspections) may alarm some at first, they are tempered by the authors’ admonition to “keep a watchful eye” and inform sons you’ll be doing so. The work effectively straddles William Sears’s attachment parenting and the more openly authoritative style of John Rosemond. In a crowded field, this work is highly recommended for all public libraries and for collections supporting teachers and the helping professions.—Douglas C. Lord, Connecticut State Lib., Hartford

Monday, January 26, 2009

My 11-year-old saw porn! What do I do?

D. H. asks:

Suppose a friend of my son's introduces him to pornography on the internet and I know little about the parent's of the boy lives, church involvement, etc. How should I handle it with the two of them? How do I balance communicating it being wrong and yet understanding?

What "punishment" would you provide to an 11 year old?

Stephen and David answer:

Clinical research shows that there are significant ramifications to the repeated exposure to pornography—and the earlier the exposure, the more likely a problem it will be for the boy as an adult. And sadly, more and more boys than ever before are at risk to early exposure to pornography. Here are some disturbing statistics on children and internet pornography.
• Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography: 11 years old
• 15-17 year olds having multiple hard-core exposures: 80%
• 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online: 90% (most while doing homework)

As we address in our book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, realistically, it's the question is not, "If our son will be exposed to porn?", but rather "When will he see porn?" And, "How much?" "What kind?" "How often?" "What will he do with it?" "What will it do to him?"

You see in order to raise our sons well, as parents, we need to be prepared to talk with our sons about pornography: it's allure, it's impact, and its potential consequences.

Ideally you will have set the stage with him before he actually is exposed to porn. In doing so, he will at the very least know that you know, and more than likely you will be able to help prepare him for how to handle the situation. But, as a parent, we can't always be ahead of the curve, and we will need to play catch up. It's almost never to late to begin this conversation.

With the situation you've presented here, there are a couple of cenario we can imagine that really determine how you approach this topic with your son.

Example 1: Assuming that is was your son who told you about seeing the porn.

Have a party! We are only half kidding when we say this. Anytime a boys shares this kind of experience with his parent(s) it is cause for celebration. In this case your son needs to be celebrated and thanked for his integrity in his values, his trust in your relationship, and his courage to come to you.

Example 2: You busted him.

If this is the case, it's important to respond but not over react. For sure your son needs to understand that this is a serious issue to you and that are angry, afraid, sad, etc. But if you are not responsible with your feelings, you will likely end up shaming your son and making him feel defective, broken, and/or stupid.

With either situation there needs to be a conversation with your son includes;

1. Fact finding. What happened? What was the situation that created an opportunity for your son to be exposed to porn? Is this the first time? Where were the parents? What kind of pornography did he see/has he seen?
2. Connection. What was this experience like for him? Be curious This may include, normalizing his curiosity. Affirming the power of pornography.
3. Preparation. Talk with your son about the real dangers of pornography: we cover all of these in our book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys
4. Talk with the friend's parents. What you learn from your son will dictate the tone and substance of this conversation. You probably want to run your thoughts by another person before you actually talk with the other boys parents.
5. Set boundaries. There need to be some barriers put in place that can help your son. If this was the first time, their needs to be more process than punishment—more conversation than criticism—but for sure their needs to be some consequences.
6. Keep talking. Make sure their is room for the conversation to continue with your son. You don't want to nag him or grill him about it, but you do want to circle back around every few days at first, then every few weeks to see how he is processing the initial event.

For more insight and tips, get the book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Jason G. asks:
Okay, Stephen & David, my boys are 12.  They've got newfound emotions, a growing
sense of autonomy, and hair growing in new places, too.

With their budding sexuality and growing awareness of girls, I've been
wondering about how to bring up the topic of masturbation with them.  We've
had the birds and the bees talk and we enjoy a pretty open conversation
about most everything.  In a way I think I blew it by not talking about
masturbation with them when we had the birds and the bees talk.  But now
that they're older, there seems like ample opportunity for it to be awkward.

I never had anyone to talk with me about any of these things when I was
growing up, so I was left to navigate these waters on my own and felt
embarassment and shame over my own burgeoning sexuality.  I vowed that I
wouldn't leave my kids similarly in the dark.  But now that the moment is
here, I'm a little unsure of the dark and don't know how to proceed...  Got
a flashlight?

Stephen & David Answer:


Here's  a light.  Don't fret over having not had the talk yet.  Yes they may have been better served to have talked earlier, but what matters is that you want to talk now.  Go ahead and expect there to be some awkwardness around this topic.  There is good reason for this: It's an awkward topic.  With that said, the more at ease you can be and comfortable in discussing it, the less awkward your sons will likely feel in the midst of this conversation.  

You are so on target, out of your own experience, about how much shame we make boys vulnerable to when we don't help them navigate this area.  Boys desperately need to hear from their dads )or other trustworthy men) on this topic.  Our approach in this kind of conversation is to do it around a task—shoot some hoops, walk the greens, change a tire, fish, canoe, hike . . . anything where he doesn't have to look you in the eyes from start to finish.  Boys talk well around a task.  Eye to eye can feel really threatening to them, and particularly with this kind of topic.  So first of all decide when and where you want to open up a dialogue with him.  That's foundational.

Secondly, we recommend talking more about the biology of masturbation than anything.   We put together some helpful guidelines in Wild Things for guiding a dad through this conversation.  Check out the Hot Topics section of our book and see if it's helpful in navigating the conversation. We go deeper into this in our book, but, briefly we suggest:
Normalizing the behavior.
Talk with him the pros and cons.
Don’t make this a one time conversation. (We suggest making it a part of broader conversation about sexuality, masculinity, and his heart.)

We're grateful you are wanting and willing to step in the game with your boys in this way. And for sending in such a great question, your book is on the way.

Stephen & David

Wild Things hits Memphis

Last night, David Thomas taught Wild Things to a packed out room of over 100 parents and educators at Independent Presbyterian in Memphis. Thank you Independent Pres. for such a great turnout. From the picture above, you’d think that he put quite a few people asleep (all the heads down), but to the contrary, the talk went great and they were actually taking notes. More later.


There are few other topics relating to boys that are as emotionally charged, polarizing, and likely controversial as that of spanking. With that in mind, we’re simply going to throw out some ideas to consider in terms of choosing a form of discipline and you pick sides on this one.

1. Boys are naturally aggressive, as we discussed with Explorers. They don’t need any help in being more that way.
2. Always discipline toward character not behavior.
3. Never discipline in anger, whether physically or verbally. Doing so creates opportunity for harm, either physical or emotional harm. It also models something for a kid that isn’t useful. At the core, it’s a lack of self-control. Boys benefit from being sent to their rooms and waiting while you formulate a consequence for them.
4. Try and make the punishment fit the crime. We realize this isn’t always possible, but can take place a large majority of time. Greater learning takes place when kids experience natural consequences.
5. Discipline should be consistent to have the most impact and with as little emotion as possible. Screaming or yelling doesn’t create greater impact for learning with kids; it only makes you look more out of control.
6. A fantastic guide for disciple is the Love and Logic series. They have books and resources starting with kids as young as six months all the way through adolescence. Their philosophy is extremely honoring to kids and their techniques are highly effective when utilized consistently. Go to to explore their resources.

This was taken from our new book, Wild Things. Buy it on Amazon.

Boys . . . How they grow up

There is a lot that goes into the makeup of boys: genetics, culture, physiology, emotions, spirituality, snakes, snails, puppy dog tails, etc. Boys are really complicated; much more complicated than we often give them credit for being.
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, wrote, “Of all animals the boy is the most unmanageable, inasmuch as he has the fountain of reason in him not yet regulated.” That Plato was a smart guy. As a general rule, boys are more difficult to raise than girls. They are tougher to parent. They are tougher to teach. They are tougher to relate with. They are tougher to mentor and coach. The famous English journalist G. K. Chesterton said it this way,
“Boyhood is a most complex and incomprehensible thing. Even when one has been through it, one does not understand what it was. A man can never quite understand a boy, even when he has been the boy.”
While we may not be able to fully understand boys, and it is for sure is never our goal to tame them, we can do a better job at trying to meet them where they are and helping them on the dangerous journey of becoming a man.
Boys are quite their own creatures, and there’s so much about the way a boy responds to his environment, himself, and others that can be explained as developmental. Having an understanding of development is foundational in terms of caring well for a boy as well as diminishing a parent’s worry and concerns as the boy passes through the different stages. (Heck, it also can help you sound really smart at PTA meetings.)
The progression of boy from a baby to a twenty-something is far more gray than black and white, much more fluid than solid. To even say the categories overlap would be too concrete. It’s much more accurate to look at boy development as a spectrum (like a rainbow)—all of the colors bleeding into and through the rest.
It’s important to understand boy development in these terms because what’s present and needed at age two doesn’t disappear by age five or twelve; it rather becomes a part of a bigger whole. It’s not uncommon to find toddler-typical behavior present in adolescents (or forty-year-old men for that matter). Equally so, there are several identity forming stages within the span of boyhood that are similar.
What a boy needs at age three (“boundaries” for example) doesn’t go away as he gets older, it’s very much still there. It’s just that he might need more of something else at age five (“redirection” for instance) or around nine or ten (like “involvement”).
The older a boy gets the more he needs from his caregivers. This is really different than some other more “traditional” views of child development that say as the boy becomes a teenager and then a man he needs less from his parents. In actuality the older a boy gets the more complex and dynamic his needs are. His needs move from primarily physical (birth to age three) to increasingly becoming more relational, emotional, and spiritual.
That is not to say that there isn’t a progression from one stage to the next because there is. And it is our job as their caregivers to help the boys we love move from one stage to the next. It’s really important to understand that what a boy gets or doesn’t get at one stage will directly affect how well he will transition into the next. The reason so many men struggle relationally, emotionally, and spiritually is not a lack of intelligence or morality. It’s an effect of not reaching key developmental milestones; or being rushed through one to the other; or simply skipping entire stages all together. Popular writer and speaker John Eldredge brilliantly puts is this way,
“Each stage has its lessons to be learned, and each stage can be wounded, cut short, leaving the growing man an undeveloped soul. Then we wonder why he folds suddenly when he is forty-five, like a tree we find toppled in the yard after a night of strong winds. We go over to have a look and find that its roots hadn’t sunk down into the earth, or perhaps that it was torn on the inside, weakened by disease or drought. Such are the insides of an unfinished man.” From Way of the Wild Heart
Sadly this is not uncommon. Every man is unfinished in some form or fashion. To some degree or another we are all boys in men’s bodies—dressed up and disguised with costumes of masculinity like Harleys or pickup trucks or bank accounts or families or careers. For some men these deficits are more severe than others. At worst we become “self-made” which is really the worst kind of man you can be because it inhibits us from trusting others and God.
For as long as we have been working with parents of boys, we have been asked the question “is this normal?” hundreds if not thousands of times. Usually what is behind this question is a deeper, scarier question that a parent is asking, “Is my son normal?” Most often the answer is, “Yes,” and with some education much of a parent’s fears can be allayed. But, if you are a woman, it is likely that you will have to broaden your definition of normal. Things you never dreamed of become normal once you put a boy in your life.
With boys, you will find yourself saying things and hearing things that you never thought needed to be said or heard. Like the night my (Stephen) wife had to insist to our two-year-old twins “sixteen times of washing really is sufficient to get your penis clean.” Or the day one of my sons screamed from the bathroom, “Guys! Come see how big my poop is!” As a caregiver to boys you will be blown away by how thousands of times you will have to say things such as, “Please keep you feet to yourself.” or “Don’t lick the floor.” or “Please remember that farting is for private.”
In the our latest book, Wild Things, we will provide some categories for understanding the way of a boy on his developmental journey.
• The Explorer (ages 2–4)
• The Lover (ages 5–8)
• The Individual (ages 9–12)
• The Wanderer (ages 13–17)
• The Warrior (ages 18–22)
What we have outlined here is an amalgamation of many other developmental theories, views, and opinions. We’ve tried to lay things out and explain things in a way that will give you some clarity as well as offer you some ways to provide signposts for boys along their journey—and maybe help keep you a little saner to boot.
As you can see, with each category we have put some age parameters. Please read this next sentence out loud: These are loose parameters. Each boy will take the journey of boyhood at his own pace. Some will seem to race through. Others will take it in sputters and starts. And a few of us meander through like . . . well . . . a boy in a toy store—with no intention of ever leaving. It’s our job as parents, educators, coaches, mentors, youth workers, counselors, etc. to help him along the way by knowing where he is and giving him what he needs.

Order the book on Amazon.

Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys

Well our new book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys comes out next week. We are really proud of this one. Word from a few people tell us it might be our break out book. Who knew that you would have to write five books before you “broke out.” Regardless we are really excited about getting this book in the hands of moms and dad, grandparents, teachers, counselors, and coaches—anyone really who cares about our next generation of men.

Anyway, a little bit about the book. It plays off the themes in the Caldecott Medal-winning children's book Where the Wild Things Are, this book is informative, practical, and encouraging. It is written to guide parents as they guide boys down the path to healthy and authentic manhood. Wild Things addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of a boy, containing chapters such as “Sit Still! Pay Attention!” “Deficits and Disappointments,” and “Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage.”

Here is the complete Table of contents:

Part 1: The Way of a Boy
1. The Explorer (ages 2–4)
2. The Lover (ages 5–8)
3. The Individual (ages 9–12)
4. The Wanderer (ages 13–17)
5. The Warrior (ages 18–22)

Part 2: The Mind of a Boy
6. A Boy’s Brain
7. Different Learning Styles
8. “Sit Still! Pay Attention”
9. Deficits and Disappointments

Part 3: The Heart of a Boy
10. Nobel Creatures: Nurturing a Boy’s Heart
11. A Boy and His Mother
12. A Boy and His Father
13. Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage
14. Sailing for Home

As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive. You can order it at Amazon or through various other bookseller’s websites.

If you have any questions, about boys, let us know and we will try and answer them in a future blog.